HC Deb 02 November 2000 vol 355 cc821-2
3. Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

How many people are employed in the United Kingdom's shipbuilding and ship repairing industry; and what was the comparable figure in (a) 1980 and (b) 1990. [133889]

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Alan Johnson)

The information is not available for the dates requested but it is available for 1981, 1991 and 1998. The data are available only for Great Britain, not the United Kingdom.

In September 1998, the latest year for which data are available, 39,800 people were employed in the building and repairing of ships and boats. In September 1981, 120,800 people were employed in shipbuilding and repairing and the comparable figure for September 1991 was 47,000.

Dr. Godman

I know that the Government are doing their best to stop the dreadful decline in shipbuilding jobs, but might I point out to my hon. Friend that the premature withdrawal of the European Union's operating aid will badly harm the industry and those employed in it? I hope that he will agree to meet a delegation of Members from shipbuilding constituencies to discuss that before the Industry Council meets on 4 December. The aid is not even a pittance when compared with the money given by Brussels to the farming industry, and other European Union member states want to retain the aid.

Mr. Johnson

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have discussed the matter at the Shipbuilding Forum. It is worth mentioning that, for the first time in the history of this maritime nation, the present Government have created a forum for the industry, the unions and Government to sit around the same table.

It is important to remember that it was the industry itself that agreed to the abolition of the shipbuilding intervention fund by the end of the year 2000, for the simple reason that that fund is disappearing across Europe. Our competition problems are mainly with Korea, where there is a 30 to 40 per cent. difference in prices. The 9 per cent. grants available under SIF are viewed as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed and I should be pleased to meet a delegation of Members as he suggests.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I appreciate that the figures refer only to Great Britain, but we welcome the development of recent weeks, which has given some hope to shipbuilding throughout the United Kingdom. What discussions are going on with the Department for Education and Employment to ensure that we have the trained personnel who can continue the traditions of British shipbuilding?

Mr. Johnson

That is an important point. The problems in the shipbuilding industry stem from many issues, but productivity is central; and the skills of the work force, and ensuring that those skills are kept up to date with new technologies, are crucial. That is why we gave a £2.8 million grant to a link research project, whereby we work in line with the DFEE, whose representatives attend the Shipbuilding Forum that we have set up. We are working with that Department and others to ensure that the industry has the skilled personnel that it needs to face the challenges of the 21st century.

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